My Life in Shambles - Karina Halle




You can never go home again.

Or so they say.

They also say there’s no place like home, and at the moment I’m torn as to which statement makes the most sense.

I’m standing in the driveway of my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, suitcase in hand. Light snow falls around me, gathering in my long hair like white glitter. To add to the poetry of the scene, the house is all warm and glowing against the dark night and I can see the giant, perfectly-decorated Christmas tree in the big bay window, just where it’s always been. My cab drives away, plumes of exhaust rising behind it, and I’m alone on the street.

It’s such a change from New York City. Even though the suburbs of Philadelphia aren’t anything to sneeze at, I’m already missing the hustle and bustle and anonymity of the city.

Especially the anonymity.

I take in a deep breath and walk carefully down the driveway, even though my father has probably shoveled and salted and sanded it a million times over. My gait is never that steady, even in shitkicker boots, so I’m usually more cautious than I should be.

Before I can even knock on the front door, trying to find a spot that isn’t covered with a giant Christmas wreath that looks like it was made from a small forest, the door opens.

“Rie-Rie!” my oldest sister, Angie, exclaims, throwing her arms out and pulling me into a tight hug. The smell of my mother’s gingerbread cookies follows her out, enveloping me too. “You made it!”

“Rie-Rie!” her five-year old daughter Tabby says, and the whole reason I have the Rie-Rie nickname, appears from behind her mother’s legs, wiggling her fingers at me and wanting a hug.

I drop my suitcase and crouch down to her level. Tabby is gorgeous, just like her mother, with shiny blonde curls that Angie fears will go dark one day. “How are you, Peggy Sue?” I ask.

“My name is Tabitha,” she says, scrunching up her face. “Why do you always call me Peggy Sue?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I tell her, giving her a squeeze. “Are you excited for Christmas? Santa is coming tonight.”

“I was hoping you were Santa.”

“Well, you know he doesn’t use the front door.”

“He could. We just need to leave him the key.”

I grin at her, and when I get back to my feet I notice my father and mother have joined the impromptu greeting session in the foyer.

They both come at me at once.

My father with his arms out and a heartfelt, “Good to see you, baby girl.”

My mother with a sympathetic tilt of her head, hands clasped at her front. “You look so tired.”

Of course I look tired. I’ve been pulling my hair out, stressed to the max, crying nonstop for the last week. Figures my mother would point that out. She likes to get you when you’re down.

A second glance at my body from her warrants a proud, “But you’ve lost weight.”

I ignore that and sink into my father’s hug. He’s always been so good at giving them.

“I think you look beautiful, Valerie,” my father says to me warmly. He’s very sensitive to the things my mother says these days, not like when I was younger. “I’m glad you’re here. Come in. Want some eggnog?”

Angie takes my suitcase away, tucking it in the corner, while my father hustles me over to the kitchen. On the polished granite center island is the eggnog punchbowl and the moose cups that my father bought decades ago, inspired by the Christmas Vacation movie. I think he still wishes he was Clark Griswold.

“Do you want to talk about it?” my mother asks, leaning against the counter and tapping her perfectly manicured red nails against it. I’m guessing she asked her manicurist for a specific shade of Christmas red.

“She doesn’t have to talk about anything,” my father says as he pours me eggnog from the bowl, and it’s then that I notice he’s wearing his jolly snowman tie that he always wears on Christmas Eve. “Here you go, sweetheart.”

“Thank you,” I tell him, and take a sip, the rum and nutmeg hitting me hard. “Whoa, Dad. This is strong.”

“You need it,” he says. “Want a cookie?” He turns around to bring the tray of freshly baked gingerbread men out, but my mother shakes her head.

“She doesn’t need a cookie,” she says, and then gives me a sweet smile.

“Hey, she can have a cookie if she wants it,” he scolds her, narrowing his eyes.

“It’s okay. I’m not